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When men deny the foundation truth that God created the heavens and the earth, all sorts of mischief follows.
In ancient times, the Greeks and others believed that spirit was both eternal (theoretically uncreated) and good. They believed that the devil created matter, making it inherently evil. In other words, if they had tried writing the Bible, they would have begun with: “In the beginning, the devil created the earth and saw, to his satisfaction, that it was evil.”
The Greeks believed, for the most part, that the mind was spiritual and therefore good. Most of their philosophies, then, were valued, and the term philosophy itself meant “love of wisdom.” They started out as optimists, believing that it was possible to obtain knowledge (ultimate truth) through contemplation.
The Bible would agree with such optimism, had not Adam sinned and had not his sin brought death (mortality), turning his mind into a “carnal mind.” But after sin entered the picture, the carnal mind lost its ability to reach the goal of ultimate truth. 1 Corinthians 2:14 says,
14 But a natural [psukikos, “soulish”] man [that is, the soul’s conscious mind] does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.
As a philosopher in his own right, Paul, who had studied the various Greek philosophies, understood that the soul had been affected negatively by Adam’s sin (Romans 5:12) and had lost its spiritual capability. It could still learn and understand many things, of course, particularly things that were observable in this natural world. However, it lost the ability to discern spiritual things. Hence, he was helpless and was in need of divine intervention by the Holy Spirit in order to learn the ultimate truth of the Gospel.
Buddhism vs. Biblical Christianity
Far to the east, in India, a man named Siddhartha Gautama Saka was developing his philosophical religion later known as Buddhism. He himself was called “The Buddha,” (Enlightened One). His philosophy deconstructed the Hindu idea of the soul. He examined the soul, much like peeling an onion, only to find that it had no solid core. In other words, one’s sense of self is just an illusion. Reality is “non-self,” because you do not exist.
It is unfortunate that in his exploration of the inner self (soul), he did not find the spirit. That is like exploring the temple of God and failing to discover the Most Holy Place. But yet it is understandable, because one’s spirit is invisible to the soul. The soul, having taken the position of dominance when Adam and Eve sinned, has been blinded in that area and cannot perceive the spirit without divine intervention.
Of course, like many others, he did not view the body as the true self. He differed with the Biblical view in that the Bible sets forth TWO selves, the first being the natural man that was created, and the second being the spiritual self that is begotten by God through the Holy Spirit. There is the first creation man and the new creation man, and a person’s sense of self depends on who the person identifies with.
By the law of God, one is able to identify with either self: the soulish self or the spiritual self. Neither self is abolished, nor does the Bible treat either self as an illusion. In fact, it does not glorify God at all when men deny the existence of that which God has created. To put to death the old man (first creation man), or to “crucify the flesh,” one must recognize its existence and its reality. One cannot crucify an illusion.
But Buddha recognized only one self and set forth the idea that this self is an illusion. Man’s inner core (the soul) was thought to be devoid of a spiritual entity. Hence, instead of crucifying the old man and legally transferring one’s identity to the new creation man, Buddha sought to deny the old man’s existence altogether.
Buddha and the Apostle Paul both believed that the soul was incapable of discovering ultimate truth. But their conclusions differed, because Paul recognized that man also had a spirit that was distinct from the soul. Apparently, Buddha failed to recognize this, so when he discovered the emptiness of the soul, he thought that man had no real existence at all.
This is one reason it is important to understand that man is a tripartite being, having a body, soul, and spirit. The Greeks (like many Christians today) believed that the soul was spiritual, which meant that man was believed to be a dichotomous being (body and soul).
Those Christians who recognize only a body and a spiritual soul have difficulty making the change of identity from the old man to the new. While they probably recognize the existence of the new creation man and know that they should reckon the old man of flesh to be dead, they usually end up identifying with the soul instead of the spirit. Why? Because they identify with the “spiritual soul,” not realizing that this is an oxymoron.
The laws of blood make it clear that “the fleshly soul is in the blood” (Leviticus 17:11, literal translation). Paul understood this to say clearly that the soul was fleshly, or carnal, not spiritual. Even as the blood was to be given life (oxygenated by the breath), so also is the soul to be given life by the spirit (“ruach, “wind, breath, spirit”).
Materialists seek knowledge through the mind of the body (i.e., the brain). The Greeks believed that the body was inherently evil, and so they sought knowledge through the soul. Christians led by the Apostle Paul’s biblical philosophy, see the body and the soul as “flesh and blood,” so they seek knowledge through a third entity—their spirit.
The human spirit comes alive through the Holy Spirit, sent by God to fulfill His New Covenant vow. God intervenes in the created world by sending the Holy Spirit to interact with the human spirit and to “speak” to the soul. Faith is the result of hearing His voice (Romans 10:17); hence, faith is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8), for it is dependent upon God’s act of speaking.
Skepticism (in various forms) was a Greek philosophy that denied man’s ability to know. From a biblical position, it was based on the philosophy that the soul is one’s “self.” They saw the soul’s inadequacy and saw no solution to the problem through the spirit, because in turn they thought that the soul was spiritual. Paul certainly knew about Skepticism as a philosophy, and he agreed with them up to a point. Paul too did not think that the soul was capable of accepting and discerning spiritual things (1 Corinthians 2:14).
The original School of Skepticism was founded by Pyrrho of Elea in the fourth century B.C. Where did he get this idea? Vishal Mangalwadi, a Hindu-turned-Christian, tells us in his excellent work, The Book That Made Your World, page 7,
“Deconstructionists blame language for creating the illusion of the self, but the Buddha blamed the mind. It cannot be God’s image. Therefore, the mind had to be a product of primeval cosmic ignorance, Avidya. The Buddha’s rejection of the self made sense to the classical skeptics such as Pyrrho of Elea (360-270 BC), who traveled to India with Alexander the Great and interacted with Buddhist philosophers. After returning to Greece, he established a new school of skeptical philosophy to teach that nothing is truly knowable. If so, why should anyone pay philosophers to teach anything? No wonder, education, philosophy, and science declined in Greece.”
Buddha had lost sight of the creation story and the fall of man. Hence, even though he knew that the mind had a problem, he did not know that the original sin had caused the mind to lose its ability to know spiritual truth. He did not know that the carnal mind, by usurping authority over the spirit, had cut itself off from ultimate truth. By seeing no higher source of truth beyond the soul, he simply denied the existence (and reality) of the soul.
Buddha’s solution, then, was to shut down the mind altogether and to escape life and its sufferings, all caused by this “primeval cosmic ignorance, Avidya.” But escapism is a negative concept. One cannot move forward by negating. Negating the soul is useful only in preparing the way for a positive experience through the human spirit, but if one does not recognize the spirit, one reaches only the dead end of non-existence.
Biblical philosophy does not declare the soul’s essence to be non-existent but rather that the soul’s essence—the old man of flesh—must be recognized and then “crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20). Christ is the solution, because He alone made it possible to crucify the old man of flesh and change one’s identity to the new creation man.
The Good God
Greek religion recognized a pantheon of carnally-minded gods and goddesses with conflicting agendas. Their mythologies set forth imperfect deities who seem to enjoy the right to sin—even against each other. Such gods could only spring from similar carnal minds, where men created gods in their own image. Men had to respect their power and try not to criticize them in order to survive their wrath, but worshiping such deities provided no real example of virtue to emulate. Neither could such gods lead men into ultimate truth.
Biblical philosophy hinges on the idea that a good God created all things and that creation is inherently good. Sin is a later invasion of evil and disharmony, but it is also temporary. Through Time, God is working toward the ultimate goal of reconciling all things to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19; Colossians 1:20). Because all things started out as a harmonious and joyful song, when the sons of God sang with joy (Job 38:7), it will end well, because God has the power, wisdom, and love to accomplish His purpose in spite of sin.
Belief in a good God is incompatible with the final conclusions of the Buddhists and Skeptics. Christians (who understand this) do not seek to escape but to transform. They are not discouraged by the current state of the world, for they have something called Hope, an expectation and vision of the Kingdom of God that is sure to come.
While many Christians in the past 170 years adopted the escapist idea of the “rapture,” along with the idea that the earth will be destroyed, others are motivated by the Spirit of God to conform the world and creation itself to the image of God. The Protestant Reformers, who received the Scriptures in printed form after the adoption of the printing press, changed the world because of this view of the world.
They were not Skeptics. If they had believed that truth was unknowable, they would not have searched the Scriptures, nor would they have taught it to others. They sought to build “The New World” in America, and although their success was limited in extending liberty to all men equally, their light pierced the darkness and put the world on course toward “Liberty and Justice for All.”
Men’s philosophies of life and their belief systems affect their actions. If enough people believe a concept, it will change the culture. If enough cultures believe that concept, it will change the world. Nations rise and fall according to the ideals of their people. Most nations are destroyed from within through the degradation of culture. (Of course, I do not discount the sovereignty of God or His judgments in such matters.)
Believing in a good God who is sovereign gives us the hope of the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. Matter was not created evil, so the earth is being cleansed, not destroyed. The Feast of Tabernacles brings transformation of sinful flesh back to its original calling and purpose as a material expression of heaven. Those who have this hope are motivated to build a better world and not merely to escape it in a rapture and live in a purely spiritual state in heaven.